My name is Henrietta S. Robertson.
– Opening sentence
I received In a Land of Paper Gods as part of a blog tour, where I did a short Q+A with author Rebecca Mackenzie.
In a Land of Paper Gods follows the story of Henrietta S. Robertson, better known as Etta. That’s her English name, anyway. Her Chinese name is Ming-Mei (but her teachers do not approve of Chinese being spoken at the school).
Born in China, Etta is the daughter of British missionaries and spends her time growing up in a boarding school tucked away in the mountains of Lushan, while her parents follow their calling and spread the word of God.
Etta, 10, is the smallest in her class, and faces the usual struggles any 10 year old girl must face; standing up to the class bully, avoiding getting into trouble with her teachers, and learning to become a good Christian woman.
What I liked about this book, initially, was the Blyton-esque way that Mackenzie weaved subtle magic into Etta and her classmates playtime. Reading about Etta and her adventures reminded me of The Naughtiest Girl in the School, and that instantly warmed me to the book. Tucked away in the mountain, they are shielded from the world’s realities, and mixing aspects of Christianity and Chinese spirituality create the Prophetesses club, where they hunt for prophecies and try to perform miracles.
But one day, when they try to rid a young Chinese girl of evil spirits, Etta’s life is changed forever. Unsure of who she is and where she belongs, she runs away from the school and is faced by the harsh, cruel realities of the real world.
Japan has invaded China, and not even the mountain is safe.
In a Land of Paper Gods is a beautiful, intimate story of a young girl growing up during the war – and it was refreshing to gain an insight from a unique perspective – but at times I couldn’t help but feel frustrated. I feel like the pacing was all wrong; we spend a LOT of time at the beginning with Etta, developing her character and setting up the foundations of the novel, but then Etta’s escape and the Japanese invasion is a WHIRLWIND that comes and goes before the reader has any time to properly digest it.
The final third of the book is Etta’s most interesting and defining time. This is the point in her story where she transitions from girl to woman, in a cruel and unyielding environment, and yet we jump YEARS at an inexplicably fast pace.
I was left wanting so much more during these chapters – there was so much potential here – but unfortunately it was not so. It just seems a shame to me, especially when Mackenzie spent so much time drawing us in with the little details in the beginning.
And I’m not even going to talk about the ending. If you’ve read it, please comment and tell me what you thought of it – I am yet to decide whether I loved it or hated it!
(3 / 5)
The snow fell and fell
– Final sentence